"The Stranger" by Albert Camus, Part One: Chapters 1-3

August 10, 2017
Albert Camus's seminal 1942 novel explores a young man's alienation from society. Learn these words from Matthew Ward's translation of the French text.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Part One: Chapters 1-3, Part One: Chapters 4-6, Part Two: Chapters 1-2, Part Two: Chapters 3-5
I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.”
That way I can be there for the vigil and come back tomorrow night.
He’s the one who should have offered his condolences.
But he probably will day after tomorrow, when he sees I’m in mourning. For now, it’s almost as if Maman weren’t dead.
After the funeral, though, the case will be closed, and everything will have a more official feel to it.
I was a little distracted because I still had to go up to Emmanuel’s place to borrow a black tie and an arm band.
It was probably because of all the rushing around, and on top of that the bumpy ride, the smell of gasoline, and the glare of the sky and the road, that I dozed off.
He thumbed through a file and said, “Madame Meursault came to us three years ago. You were her sole support.”
I thought he was criticizing me for something and I started to explain.
“You don’t have to justify yourself, my dear boy. I’ve read your mother’s file. You weren’t able to provide for her properly. She needed someone to look after her. You earn only a modest salary. And the truth of the matter is, she was happier here.”
We crossed a courtyard where there were lots of old people chatting in little groups. As we went by, the talking would stop. And then the conversation would start up again behind us. The sound was like the muffled jabber of parakeets.
While not an atheist, Maman had never in her life given a thought to religion.
“We put the cover on, but I’m supposed to unscrew the casket so you can see her.” He was moving toward the casket when I stopped him.
In the little mortuary he told me that he’d come to the home because he was destitute.
Then I felt like having a smoke. But I hesitated, because I didn’t know if I could do it with Maman right there. I thought about it; it didn’t matter. I offered the caretaker a cigarette and we smoked.
When they’d sat down, most of them looked at me and nodded awkwardly, their lips sucked in by their toothless mouths, so that I couldn’t tell if they were greeting me or if it was just a nervous tic.
Soon one of the women started crying. She was in the second row, hidden behind one of her companions, and I couldn’t see her very well. She was crying softly, steadily, in little sobs. I thought she’d never stop.
I didn’t feel drowsy anymore, but I was tired and my back was hurting me.
I even had the impression that the dead woman lying in front of them didn’t mean anything to them. But I think now that that was a false impression.
On their way out, and much to my surprise, they all shook my hand—as if that night during which we hadn’t exchanged as much as a single word had somehow brought us closer together.
“The undertaker’s men arrived a few minutes ago. I’m going to ask them to seal the casket. Before I do, would you like to see your mother one last time?” I said no.
He informed me that he and I would be the only ones there, apart from the nurse on duty. The residents usually weren’t allowed to attend funerals. He only let them keep the vigil. “It’s more humane that way,” he remarked.
The director was telling me that the hearse was waiting out in the road and at the same time I could hear the priest beginning his prayers.
The men moved toward the casket with a pall.
Varnished, glossy, and oblong, it reminded me of a pencil box.
Strange, floppy, thick-rimmed ears stuck out through his fine, white hair, and I was struck by their blood-red color next to the pallor of his face.
But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive.
The glare from the sky was unbearable.
I felt a little lost between the blue and white of the sky and the monotony of the colors around me—the sticky black of the tar, the dull black of all the clothes, and the shiny black of the hearse.
All of it—the sun, the smell of leather and horse dung from the hearse, the smell of varnish and incense, and my fatigue after a night without sleep—was making it hard for me to see or think straight.
Then there was the church and the villagers on the sidewalks, the red geraniums on the graves in the cemetery, Perez fainting (he crumpled like a rag doll), the blood-red earth spilling over Maman’s casket, the white flesh of the roots mixed in with it, more people, voices, the village, waiting in front of a cafe, the incessant drone of the motor, and my joy when the bus entered the nest of lights that was Algiers and I knew I was going to go to bed and sleep for twelve hours.
I told her Maman had died. She wanted to know how long ago, so I said, “Yesterday.” She gave a little start but didn’t say anything. I felt like telling her it wasn’t my fault, but I stopped myself because I remembered that I’d already said that to my boss. It didn’t mean anything. Besides, you always feel a little guilty.
Behind them, an enormous mother, in a brown silk dress, and the father, a rather frail little man I know by sight.
Seeing him with his wife, I understood why people in the neighborhood said he was distinguished.
The streetcars that followed brought back the players, whom I recognized by their little athletic bags. They were shouting and singing at the tops of their lungs that their team would never die.
Soon afterwards, with the streetcars running less often and the sky already blue above the trees and the lamps, the neighborhood emptied out, almost imperceptibly, until the first cat slowly made its way across the now deserted street.
It occurred to me that anyway one more Sunday was over, that Maman was buried now, that I was going back to work, and that, really, nothing had changed.
I couldn’t see anything, and all I was conscious of was the sensation of hurtling forward in a mad dash through cranes and winches, masts bobbing on the horizon and the hulls of ships alongside us as we ran.
If the dog has an accident in the room, it gets beaten again. This has been going on for eight years. Celeste is always saying, “It’s pitiful,” but really, who’s to say?
I must have looked tired, because Raymond told me not to let things get to me. At first I didn’t understand. Then he explained that he’d heard about Maman’s death but that it was one of those things that was bound to happen sooner or later. I thought so too.

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